When extreme marathon runner Dion Leonard took on an arduous 155-mile cross country race in China, he didn’t expect to bring home something other than a medal.
There, he met a friendly stray dog, and within a few days, the pair shared an unexpected yet unbreakable bond.
Dion and the pup met during the 4 Deserts Gobi March in 2016, a 6-day foot race weaving through the largest desert in China. Dion, who was from Edinburgh, Scotland, was one of the 101 competitors, but he soon found himself accompanied by an unlisted racer.
This homeless dog was living near where the race started. During the first day, the pup decided to join the athletes for the first 22-mile stretch. Dion had noticed her back at the runners’ camp, but he never expected her to be in it for the long haul.
Turns out, he was wrong.
“On Day 2, I was at the start line for the race stage and she was standing next to me looking up at me,” Dion told The Dodo. “I thought to myself this little dog isn’t going to last very long at my side as we raced off, but she ended up running the whole day and 23 miles distance.”
At times, the dog would even charge ahead of Dion, as if motivating him to run faster. He occasionally stopped to give her water and beef jerky from his own pack.
When it was time to settle into their campsite that night, the dog snuggled next to him in his sleeping pad, refusing to leave his side. From then on, the duo became inseparable, and Dion decided to give his new friend a name: Gobi.
It’s still a mystery why the pup followed him out of all the 101 participants, but Dion is glad.
“She literally stayed with me all day,” he said. “I didn’t do anything in particular to gain her attention. She chose me. I was the one that she was going to stick to.”
During the third day, Gobi ran along with him for the 26-mile stretch. This time, the terrain was harsh, and Dion had to carry her over multiple river crossings up to 21 yards long. It was then that their relationship was cemented.
But for Day 4 and Day 5, the organizers didn’t let her join the race due to extreme weather; the temperatures reached around 125 degrees Fahrenheit around the middle of the course.
Instead, they let her ride with them in a car toward the finish lines so that she would be able to greet Dion as he came in.
And on the sixth day, Gobi was back in the race, running alongside Dion until they crossed the finish line together, winning second place. The event organizers even produced a matching medal for Gobi to recognize his efforts.
Dion estimates that Gobi ran more than half of the 155-mile race, which is an incredible feat for such a small dog.
Dion knew he couldn’t leave Gobi behind, so he researched how he could bring the dog back home with him to the UK. He found that it would take a lot of medical examinations, paperwork, quarantines, and a fee of over $6,500 to do that.
So, he and his wife started a crowdfunding campaign online to help cover these expenses. Within days, the fundraiser attracted donations from across the world, and it easily surpassed its goal.
Now, Gobi is living happily with Dion, his wife, and their cat!
Dion went on to write three books documenting his and Gobi’s story. It has become so popular that Sony and Tencent Pictures plan to make a movie adaptation of it.
We’ll definitely stay tuned for that!
If you were inspired by Dion and Gobi’s friendship, please share this story with your family and friends.